When Badly Reviewed Horror Movies Are Actually Great Films!Critics hate horror movies. And that hatred is why many see the genre a the ultimate in disrepute and exploitation. Critics pan horror movies as a knee-jerk reaction to the seedier elements. And they ignore the genre's craft, ingenuity and trenchant social commentary. So many badly reviewed horror movies are actually incredible films. It might take a while for these film's reputations to come around, but, in the end, quality can't stay hidden. So here's a list of badly review horror flicks that are actually awesome. Some critics now view some of these previously panned movies as the classics they are. But others on this list have reputations that have never quite recovered.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is now considered, if not the best horror film of all time, then definitely top 5. It is the original slasher film. SPOILER ALERT: In killing off Janet Leigh, its biggest star, 30 minutes into the film it shocked audiences and forever changed what was possible in cinema. On its original release, however, critics savaged the film. Audiences flocked to it, and critics changed their tune, but the fact remains one of the greatest masterpieces in film history was described by Time Magazine (and countless others) as ‘merely gruesome’.
Peeping Tom (1960)
While Psycho became one of Hitchcock’s biggest hits, Peeping Tom ruined the career of legendary director British Michael Powell. It is crucial that both of these films were released in 1960, a time when social and cultures mores were changing dramatically. These two films are also the greatest argument for the blind-spot most critics have for horror. Today it consistently ranks as one of the best British films of all time.
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s The Thing is a flawless film. The way it uses its Antarctic location and the premise of an alien-monster which kills and then imitates its prey, hiding in plain sight, is masterful. However, on its original release critics hated it and audiences stayed away in droves. It was a failure for horror master John Carpenter, which is insane given how immaculate a film it is.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Another one of the greatest, if not the single-greatest, horror movies of all time. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has influenced as many movies as Psycho, and is a pre-cursor to the American independent film boom later in the century. On its initial release, however, critics couldn’t get passed the gore. That’s not the last time you’ll hear that critique.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
The Jessica Biel remake of Texas Chainsaw is a film that has now been unjustly forgotten. If there is any film on this list that I would go to bat for, it is this one. As an exercise in pure terror and tension, no other film can hold a candle to it. Yes, it was critically dismissed on release and sadly it hasn’t been rediscovered either. The chase sequences rival any in film history, and are well worth a watch for either casual or dedicated horror fans.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Critics don’t like most horror franchises. To be fair, most horror franchises have a lot of s***, and Texas Chainsaw is no exception. It feels like critics have been particularly harsh on this franchise, because there have been so many high-points. While I would not rank this alongside the previous two as unqualified masterpieces, this Renee Zellwenger and Matthew McConaughey starrer is a terrifying and satirical take on the now-classic story. The cast and IP should get you in the door, but the quality of the film is what will keep you there.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Friday the 13th was critically derided on its original release, yet it has gone on to become one of the most enduring horror properties. It is hard to judge the film today on its own merits, because the template for the slasher film is this film (even more so than the original Halloween). You know every beat, but there is a reason those beats became cliché, they are effective.
Halloween II (1980)
The first Halloween is a masterpiece, and I would argue Halloween II is just slightly the lesser. Set right after the culmination of the first film, Halloween II follows survivor Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) to hospital, where terror ensues. As a continuation of its masterful predecessor it delivers both scares and great story beats. However, it should also be considered a great film on its own. It uses its setting terrifically and Jamie Lee Curtis cements her scream queen status.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Here is a film that I actually hate, but my horror friends have a lot of love for. Halloween III is the only film in the franchise that doesn’t feature Michael Myers. The idea was to make the Halloween franchise into an anthology series connected by its desire to terrorize set on Halloween. This film tells the story of haunted Irish toys, and was much hated in its day, causing the franchise to revert to Michael Myers. I can see why, but a lot of people stan for this film, so I’m including it.
Pet Semetary (1989)
This Stephen King adaptation ranks as one of his best, but critics didn’t originally think so (and haven’t really come around). The film was a massive popular success, and its story of creepy pet burials and bringing back the dead is deftly told. Trust the people on this one, Pet Semetary is great!
The Fog (2005)
Any film would have trouble competing with John Carpenter’s 1980 original, so The Fog didn’t even screen for critics on its initial release. When critics did finally get a look at the film, they hated it. But the film is actually a worthy successor to Carpenter’s masterpiece, which isn’t a surprise seeing as Carpenter produced the film. The cast of mid-aughts Tom Welling, Maggie Grace, and Selma Blair is pretty fantastic too!
Scream 4 (2011)
I love the Scream franchise unreservedly (except for the TV show, which was mostly terrible). It’s a shame critics didn’t support this sequel, coming eleven years after the last installment, because while it isn’t perfect, it is a great film with some awesome twists. It also does the near impossible by introducing a huge-number of great new characters that are integrated with the original cast.
Islands of Lost Souls (1932)
Island of Lost Souls was so effective it was banned in England while causing (in part) censorship in Hollywood in the form of The Hays Code. Critics were horrified (and not in a good way) by the film, but it was a major hit. The film is an adaptation of HG Wells The Island of Dr. Moreau and featured the brilliant Charles Laughton alongside horror legend Bela Lugosi. If you haven’t seen this critical dud, now classic, check it out!
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
If Scream (1996) is the Britney Spears of 90s horror films, than I Know What You Did Last Summer is the Christina. It isn’t the original, it is often overlooked, and doesn’t have the passionate supporters, but by god it’s great. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinz Jr, and Ryan Phillippe is probably the greatest single cast of any 90s film. It also has scares to spare. One day this will be viewed as the classic film it is!
Final Destination (2000)
The Final Destination franchise has more than one great film in its ranks, but the original remains the best of the bunch. While receiving mixed reviews on its release, the enduring appeal of its central conceit has more than made up for those. Basically, if you cheat death, death is going to come for you. Devon Sawa and Ali Larter are just perfect in the film.
House of Wax (2005)
This 2005 remake is most well-known for killing off Paris Hilton in gory fashion. Critics hated the film back in the day, but what they missed in all the Paris-stunt-casting-attention was an incredibly solid horror film that serves more than enough scares and character work to justify its inclusion on any best-of list.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
The aughts were a time when classic horror movies were getting remade, critically savaged, and quickly forgotten. This is a real shame because a lot of these films are incredible horror movies. This stands alongside the 2003 Texas Chainsaw and the 2005 House of Wax remake as cream of the crop. The director of New French Extremism classic Haute Tension, Alexandre Aja, brings everything he’s got to a film that deserves to be rediscovered and championed.
30 Days of Night (2007)
This Josh-Hartnett-Vampires-in-Alaska film was oddly not well-reviewed. This comes as a surprise to me, because I remember when it came out everyone I knew loved it. It also was not one of the slew of horror remakes that critics were hating on at the time, and its cast and look seemed a cut above. Basically, this seems like the type of horror movie that wouldn’t be badly reviewed, since it’s not only a good movie, but also has a patina of respectability. Maybe it is just too violent. Heard that before?
Event Horizon (1997)
Ghost space-ship rescue mission. So yeah it owes a lot to Alien (1979), but this is also one of the most purely stylistic films of the list. Laurence Fishburn is a national treasure and he is fantastic in the film. Sadly, both critics and audiences seemed to hate this film. At least people are starting to come around and its reputation is beginning to speak for itself.
Wolf Creek (2005)
Wolf Creek received most of its bad reviews for its starkly realistic violence, which was too much for many critics. That makes sense, since the craft of the film is unimpeachable. This is such a terrifying and well-made film, I still shiver just thinking about it. It follows three backpackers who are kidnapped by a serial killer in the Australian Outback, and is probably the scariest film on this list.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
The Amityville Horror was such a success it spawned an eighteen film series comprising both theatrical and direct-to-video installments. The original is definitely the best, and while critically trounced on its release, is now widely considered one of the most influential horror films ever made. A lot of credit has to go to the lead pairing of Margot Kidder and James Brolin.
The Vampire Lovers (1970)
Hammer Film Productions, colloquially known as Hammer Horror films, were a studio operating from the 50s to the 70s that traded in gothic monster films. Every horror fanatic has a soft spot for these films, especially their Dracula series starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. What is less loved is the series of three lesbian Vampire films they produced in the early 70s to exploit increased permissiveness for female nudity. This first installment, while not well reviewed, is widely considered the best, and now a classic in its own right…
Lust for A Vampire (1971)
…The second film in the trilogy, Lust for A Vampire, didn’t have the same critical reappraisal, but it’s a film I love. Yes, it’s soft-core, endlessly campy, early-70s gothic-vampire movie, but it has so many fantastic images, a great script, and is just a great watch. They don’t make movies like this anymore, and like Giallo, Hammer’s late era gothic films are so utterly their own thing, how can you not love them?
I Walked with A Zombie (1943)
Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton are two of the most influential names in film history. The three films they made together for RKO have influenced close to 80s years of movies, not just horror films. I Walked with A Zombie, the second of their two collaborations, was originally dismissed. Now, the story of a nurse who travels to a Caribbean island to take care of an ailing woman is considered a classic. Tale as old as time.
The Shining (1980)
And finally…yep, you read that correctly: The Shining was badly reviewed on its initial release. Kubrick’s masterpiece and the best Stephen King adaptation! Arguably the best film of the 80s, and a lot of people’s choice for best horror film of all time was badly reviewed. For those keeping score at home Psycho, Peeping Tom, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, The Amityville Horror, The Thing, Island of Lost Souls, I Walked with A Zombie, and The f***ing Shining were all badly reviewed on their original release. Without those films, you don’t have 9 of the greatest horror movies of all time. Reviews, especially for horror films, don’t mean everything.